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August 20, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS

Pennies From Heaven (Channel 5 Sunday at 6 p.m.) is the musical as an art film, a work of fantasy so stylized and sophisticated as to be rightly described as experimental. Steve Martin lip-syncs his way through the Depression-era standards as a breezy Chicago sheet-music salesman who falls on hard times--and in love with demure schoolteacher Bernadette Peters. Directed by Herbert Ross and written by Dennis Potter, Pennies From Heaven is the story of this couple's struggle to find a little happiness and joy in a bleak world far removed from the bright promises held out by all those songs so beloved by Martin.

In the 1987 Heat (Channel 13 Sunday at 6 p.m.), Burt Reynolds is a believable tough guy, a hard-core gambler and low-rent bodyguard, but the film is just another bumpy, tedious ride through seamy Vegas streets.

When Hitchcock's psychological mystery Marnie (Channel 5 Sunday at 8 p.m.) was released 25 years ago, it was not highly acclaimed by most critics yet even then it had its defenders. Tippi Hedren stars as a compulsive thief, and Sean Connery is her boss, who struggles to understand her.

The Hanging Tree (Channel 13 Sunday at 8 p.m.), a highly regarded 1959 Western, stars Gary Cooper as a doctor who nurses a young blind woman, played impressively by Maria Schell.

Talk about mixing genres: Nick Knight (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.) is a new TV movie starring Rick Springfield as a police detective who also happens to be a vampire.

Irreconcilable Differences (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is one of the wittiest Hollywood movies of the '80s. Ryan O'Neal and Shelley Long star as a struggling director and his screenwriter-wife whose lives spin out of control when O'Neal finally gets his big break to such an extent that their daughter (Drew Barrymore) sues them for divorce.

The Spy Who Loved Me (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the 10th James Bond film, achieved a kind of perfection of preposterousness. Not only one, but two nuclear subs (one British, one Russian) have disappeared without a trace. Giving chase are both 007 (Roger Moore) and Soviet Agent XXX (Barbara Bach), which leads them to the underwater palace of supervillain Curt Jurgens.

Originally a nine-hour British TV miniseries, Tony Palmer's ponderous Wagner (Channel 13 Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is shown as a two-part biography with Richard Burton in the title role as the German composer.

Nightmare at Bitter Creek (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.), a 1988 TV movie, is a cut above the usual "ordinary people in mortal danger" shoot-'em-up fare. Four women on horseback--Lindsay Wagner, Constance McCashin, Joanna Cassidy and Janne Mortil--and their alcoholic mountain guide (Tom Skerritt) are marked for death when they inadvertently stray into the path of fugitive white supremacists. In the middle of all the mayhem Skerritt's shaky hero and Wagner, bruised from a recent divorce, make a believable emotional connection.

House Calls (Channel 13 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) is a quite enjoyable kind of live-action cartoon for grown-ups: farcical, mildly risque and quick-stepping in its broader-than-life way. As a widowed doctor, Walter Matthau is a joy to watch as he rages like a dyspeptic moose. Glenda Jackson plays a woman of fierce independence and strong opinions with whom he collides.

Midnight Lace (Channel 13 Thursday at 8 p.m.) is that set-in-London 1960 thriller more notable for its cast--Doris Day, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall and Herbert Marshall--and for its decor than for its credibility.

Harold and Maude (Channel 13 Friday at 8 p.m.) is that lovely 1972 cult classic, written by Colin Higgins, directed by Hal Ashby and starring Bud Cort as a suicidal 20-year-old rescued by Ruth Gordon's 79-year-old swinger.

Hitchcock's 1936 Secret Agent (Channel 24 Friday at 9:30 p.m.) is an odd, offbeat blend of humor and terror. Madeleine Carroll and John Gielgud play secret agents who pose as man and wife while on assignment to kill enemy spies. Robert Young and Lilli Palmer co-star.

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